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Monday, April 16, 2007

Perfect Stranger

I love to read all the movie magazines. They aren’t like the ‘50s Photoplay or Modern Screen anymore. Now they are more about the “business” side of “show business” and include articles on the wheeling and dealing in Hollyweird as much as they do about the celebs themselves. One of the many zillions reported about a year ago was a blurb that said Halle Berry and Bruce Willis were signed to star in Perfect Stranger for Sony. Maybe I was on a Springtime high at the time or just busy but I’m so used to studios making old tv shows into lame movies in the tradition of crapola as diverse as Dennis the Menace, The Dukes of Hazzard, Charlie’s Angels, and even The Avengers that I just automatically jumped right to the 1980s sitcom “Perfect Strangers” and ran with that idea.

What in the world would Halle Berry and Bruce Willis do with that premise, I wondered? If you remember, “Perfect Strangers” was about neurotic Chicago native Larry Appleton, whose life was tossed upside down when his distant cousin Balki Bartokomous arrived from the mythical island country of Mypos and moved in with him and proceeded to drive him crazy with all his peculiar customs and habits. I used to watch the show all the time and was a big fan of Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn Baker, who played Balki and Larry. What I couldn’t imagine was Halle Berry playing either role well and Bruce Willis…? Well, he could only *possibly* play the neurotic Chicagoan because there is no way anyone would ever believe him as a pacifist sheep herder from the Greek Islands. I smelled a bomb that would make Catwoman shine by comparison.

Fortunately, that missing “s” in “Strangers” was a blessing because
Perfect Stranger has absolutely nothing to do with the old sitcom or sheep. Instead, this is a knock ‘em dead mystery adventure that is capital “T” Terrific.

The story revolves around investigative reporter Rowena (Halle Berry; X-Men 3: The Last Stand), who writes under a male pseudonym to expose political and corporate fraud. Despite being Pulitzer Prize winning brilliant she is apparently dumber than a box of rocks when it comes to seeing that her assistant Miles (Giovanni Ribisi; Gardener of Eden) is in lust with her. I can’t call it love because as much as he plays the adoring and friendly collaborator on her projects he also seems like the type of guy who would grab her panties from the laundry hamper the first chance he got and take them home for uses I’d rather not get into here but you can probably imagine ~ but don’t right now, please! But I digress.

Rowena is not a happy camper after a juicy story of hers gets axed, so she quits her job in a dramatic flourish that you only see in “newspaper movies.” People always quit in a huff in these
movies because the editor doesn’t believe them and then they prove their story and become the hero. It’s very 1930s and ‘40s. Tress Jean Arthur or Jimmy Stewart. Naturally, ten seconds after Rowena quits and storms out of the bar she was in with her editor, she meets up with a childhood friend named Grace (Nicki Aycox; TV’s “Supernatural”). Grace and Rowena chat briefly at the Christopher Street subway station, which, in the middle of their conversation magically changes into the Sheridan Square station (don’t you want to slap the continuity people when they allow something so obviously distracting as conflicting signs like these in a scene?). Anyway, Grace gives Rowena the brief 411 on her affair with a powerful man and her plans to spill the beans to the guy’s wife since this man has dumped her. She gives Ro a file of steamy e-mails between the two lovers as proof of their affair and hopes Rowena will do an expose on the guy since he is rich and famous.

Cut to a few days later and Rowena gets the news that Grace has been murdered. Da-da-da! Suddenly Rowena is stirred from the lethargy of her newfound unemployment and she becomes the crusading Nancy Drew she was meant to be and immediately goes undercover to find out who killed Grace, beginning with the ex-lover himself, Harrison Hill, played by the big man himself ~ Bruce Willis (Grindhouse).

The story from here is like a dark and murky pond, stocked full of red herrings, including a sexy Lesbian Amazon, a persnickety secretary named Cu-Josey, an industrial spy, Hill’s rich but spurned wife, some newly unveiled secrets about Miles, the “return” of a couple of men from Rowena’s past, and a surprise pregnancy. In other words, the plot is so complex and full of twists and turns you’ll never guess where it is going to end up. I read that director James Foley (Confidence) actually filmed three separate endings with three different people as the killer. I’m not sure if this was to keep the cast and crew from leaking the real ending to the press before the film was released or if he couldn’t make up his own mind as to who was going to be the culprit. I’d prefer to think it was the former as the final cut (so to speak) is downright shocking and makes the entire story entirely 100% more brilliant than if he had gone with any of the other choices.

Foley leads the viewer down a couple of roads in terms of
obvious choices by making us believe we know where he is going with the story and in each instance it makes perfect sense that the character he is making us believe is behind the murder would have done the deed. The clever part is that he never gets sloppy in making sure that the right pieces of the puzzle are inserted in just the right places even if we don’t notice them in the dialogue at the time as he unfolds the story. On second examination (yes, I saw it twice I was so entertained) it is like watching a completely different film, one that is just a credible but far more admirable in terms of its structure and writing, thanks to screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (Resistance) and original story writer Jon Bokerkamp (Taking Lives).

Perfect Stranger is a thrilling trip through a labyrinth of deception, secrets, and murder. This is one “Who done it?” that will have you guessing right up until the end, and leaves you thinking “Wow!” when the truth comes out. It rocks! I’m glad they went with the mystery angle instead of the sheep herder in the city tv show. They can leave that one for Robin Williams or Rob Schneider or both. I’ll take the Halle and Bruce story any day.

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